Laying the groundwork for your maternity leave

Just like every pregnancy is unique, every maternity leave is unique, too. If you feel overwhelmed thinking about what your maternity leave will entail, don’t worry – all that matters is that you do what feels right for you. Fortunately, you’ve also got a little time on your hands to brainstorm and plan. Even if you get pregnant this month, you’ll have some time to really work out your plan for leave.

To really start thinking about your future leave, try asking yourself and the people around you the following questions.

Things to ask yourself

Give some thought to these questions.

  • How have my co-workers handled leave? Has anyone else in your office gotten pregnant or taken any kind of leave lately? How did they go about it? Does your manager have kids, and is your office particularly supportive of parents?
  • How is my work going to get done? Speaking of your co-workers and your office, have you thought about how your work is going to get done while you’re on leave? Many women collaborate with their managers to divide their work between members of their team.
  • How am I going to get help? Whether you’ll rely on your partner, family members, or a trusted friend, it’s good to know ahead of time who you can reach out to for help and support.
  • What will need to get done? Do you have an idea of your childcare situation? How long can you afford to stay on leave? What else needs to get completed so that you’re be prepared for your baby?
  • Should and can I stay engaged with the office over leave? How much, if at all, you decide to stay connected to work during leave depends on personal and legal factors. Keep in mind that if you’re taking short-term disability leave, the laws of your state may make it illegal for you to work while you’re on leave. Check with your office’s Human Resources department before you consider doing any kind of work for your employer while on disability leave.
  • How will I ease back into the office after leave? Could you visit the office with your little one before maternity leave ends? Work a few days a week or leave at noon every day to get more time with your baby in those early months? You probably can’t know for sure right now, and again, it’s still early, but you might have some handy options available. It might help to talk to other women who have transitioned back to work after having a baby, as they might have some ideas and suggestions that would appeal to you.

Next steps

A lot of the planning for maternity leave will take place when you are pregnant. But for now, here’s how you can lay some of the groundwork for how you anticipate planning your leave.

  • Talk it out with your partner, family, and friends: Have an open conversation with your partner about how you might manage parental leave (notice we didn’t say maternity leave!). Can your partner also take a leave? How could you integrate your two leaves to have your newborn home for a longer period of time? Talk to friends and family (if they know you’re trying) to see what they did; look for creative models, and be prepared to advocate for what you might want to do. Don’t feel locked in by what your company says on paper about parental leave. Many managers and employers are willing to be more flexible for high performing employees; it costs more to replace you if you don’t come back than it does to accommodate you!
  • Document your value: Your employer hired you for a reason (and if you’re your own boss, then you hired you for a reason). Knowing your worth is an important component of being able to advocate for yourself when the time comes. Start collecting or documenting any praise, good reviews, testimonials, and other positive things that people have said about you, so that if you ever need evidence of how great an employee you are, it’s ready and accessible.
  • Paper trails: Speaking of documenting things, try to make a habit of sending follow-up emails to confirm important details of things you discuss, in person, with colleagues or HR regarding your leave. On your end, not everything can be set in stone, and it’s okay if something comes up and you have to change your own plans. But on the business side of things, a written record of conversations can come in handy if you need to hold your employer accountable for things that get forgotten or lost in the shuffle of day-to-day business.
  • Stay open and flexible: Things could change, and when the time comes to make decisions, you might find yourself switching gears. For now, just know that that’s totally normal.

Your leave is your leave. While your employer definitely has some say in how your leave and your return to work will go, starting or growing a family is, to many people, one of the biggest and most significant things in life. It’s why you started trying in the first place, so don’t forget that you’re in control, and you’ve got this!

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